Reconstruction and Constitution Building in Iraq

By Reinhart, A. Kevin; Merritt, Gilbert S. | Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, May 2004 | Go to article overview

Reconstruction and Constitution Building in Iraq


Reinhart, A. Kevin, Merritt, Gilbert S., Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


Addresses by Professor A. Kevin Reinhart and the Honorable Gilbert S. Merrit at Vanderbilt University Law School, January 23, 2004.

A. Kevin Reinhart *

I would like to thank Vanderbilt Law School and all of the many sponsors for the invitation, and especially the Foreign Service Legal Society whose officers worked so hard to put this together. I appreciate very much the opportunity to talk to you all about Iraq. I need to begin with sort of a prelude: the things that were part of my training are in a way irrelevant to what I was doing this summer. I was not there in a professional capacity, as an Islamicist; I was there instead as a volunteer for the International Rescue Committee (IRC). I would like to mention that the views that I'm about to express are not those of the IRC, nor are they the views of Dartmouth College. They are my views though.

The reason that I went to Iraq was because we invaded that country, and in the immediate period afterward I was not terribly happy with what was going on. I wrote to a friend who was the head of the IRC and said "Look, you know, I grew up in the military, so I'm not afraid of the military. I'm in religious studies and have spent a lot of time with the ulema in various countries. I'm also fluent in Arabic, so is there something you can do with me?" And it turned out they were opening this center in Karbala, which as some of you may know is the religious heartland of Shi'ism in Iraq. So, they said "Yes, we'd like somebody who wouldn't put his foot in it right off the bat, and who could provide a certain amount of cultural training for our guys."

We were interested particularly in working with people who had been forced out of their homes in the south and who had settled--mostly as squatters--in Karbala. There were about 120,000 of them with whom we were concerned, and for whom we were trying to do basic things: we hired engineers to bring them water, we hired had fled Saddam or were AWOL from the army. Many did not register their kids so that they would not be drafted and so on. So, that was basically the way I spent my summer; it was a very unacademic summer, which was actually nice. (Decision making was a lot easier, as a matter of fact.) But on the other hand, it was a terrific learning experience for me to live in the world of Shi'ism, to spend practically every waking hour with people for whom Hussein, the imam and martyr, was a living presence in their lives. I learned an awful lot from them.

Now I want to talk about the reconstruction of Iraq and not the invasion because the invasion is over; it is not, it seems to me debatable at this point. For this lecture, I think I will just sketch a few points, then let Judge Merritt talk, and then we will both be open to your questions.

When I arrived in Iraq, although I had taught about it and was fully aware, I imagined, of the wretchedness of Saddam and his regime, and of the terrible cost to Iraqis, I was still unprepared emotionally for the psychology of the people I was working with in these two towns of Najaf and Karbala. There was an overwhelming need to confess. It was striking to me that people, as soon as they discovered that we could have the conversation in a language with which they were comfortable, wanted to talk about their experiences. They wanted to talk about people who were dear to them, or near to them, or whom they had known and were killed or raped or tortured. They wanted to talk about their own experiences with torture. They wanted to talk about a friend who made a pilgrimage, an illegal walking pilgrimage between Najaf and Karbala, and how he was arrested and thrown into a prison that was bombed by the Americans and from which he escaped temporarily. They wanted to talk about how this friend then had to sit and listen as the guards discussed, just as a matter of efficiency, whether they should ship the prisoners to Baghdad, put them in the local jail, or just kill them--just the experience of sitting, listening to somebody debating in the same way one might debate going to 7-11, or Star Market, or Shaw's--should we kill these guys? …

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